Miss Iowa 1933 Eleanor Dankenbring -- disqualified (residency)


A coed at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana, Eleanor was chosen as the University beauty queen in her sophomore year, which somehow resulted in her selection as Miss Iowa by the MidWest Pageant official. Ellie was one of the 10 contestants who had no proof of state residency, and when the Manning mayor did not verify her residency in time she was subsequently disqualified from the Pageant -- a seven week vaudeville beauty tour and a one week pageant culminating in ignominy. While Ellie was angry over the circumstances, she still had fond memories of the Pageant.


1930 Sinn Family census form -- Manning, IA
1930 census data, Manning, IA:
J J Sinn, 55, dentist, born Germany
Louise M Sinn 44 (IA); Karl Sinn 23 (IA), Arlien Sinn (19 IA), Amos Sinn 15 (IA), Eleanor Dankenbring 17 (IA) Richard Bingamon 1 (IA), Hazel Seleber 25 teacher (NE).
Ellie is living with her mother's sister, after the deaths of her maternal grandparents in 1925 and 1927. Eleanor, the younger of two daughters of George and Alma Dankenbring, was raised by her maternal grandparents in Waterloo, Iowa after her mother's untimely demise. At age 14 in 1927, she went to live with her aunt and uncle in Manning, Iowa.

Ellie's panorama picture - age 20
1933 Valparaiso University yearbook -- this college photo contest was mentioned in the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger on June 3rd and on June 16th
In the spring of 1933, Eleanor was chosen as co-queen of the Record Beauty contest (the Valparaiso University Yearbook contest), having been selected (through photographs) by radio-announcer Lowell Thomas, submarine-commander Count Felix Von Luekner and artist-illustrator McClelland Barclay; she was only a sophomore at the time. It is unknown if she also entered the Court of Honor beauty contest at the 1933 Chicago World Fair, which was also a photographic contest. Her selection as "Miss Iowa" was also through photographs, details unknown; the July newspapers in both her hometown of Manning, IA and her school town of Valparaiso, IN only state she was informed she had been chosen Miss Iowa, ostensibly as a result of the university contest. It is thought the Miss America Pageant MidWest coordinator, Jimmy Carrier, likely found her through the June newspaper article about the University pageant.

Ellie spent the next seven weeks, prior to the Pageant, on a "Whistle Stop Tour" with six other MidWest contestants. They first convened in St. Louis, then toured in Missouri and Illinois, including Chicago and the World's Fair, to promote the Pageant and raise money for expenses. Group photos were taken (in bathingsuits, below), as well as individual shots (in bathingsuits and evening gowns, further below) that were to be used by the judges, and perhaps to sign and hand out for a fee. At least by the end of August in Charleston, WV eight contestants were together (8-member group photo in furs, below) and these eight Midwest contestants then continued to travel together by train to several cities and towns on their way East, performing along the way; Ellie tap-danced and sang "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" with another contestant.

1933 - Ellie is second from the right
1933 - Ellie is on far left
The residency issue would have surfaced at the beginning of this 7-week Whistle Stop Tour, since Miss Missouri Marie Marks knew that Miss Illinois Lillian Kroener was not only from Missouri but also had competed there and lost. Ellie must have been intrigued, but likely felt that this would not affect her in any way; was she ever to be surprised. After arrival in Atlantic City, the rumors were mentioned to the RKO sponsors of the two NY contestants, who went to the Pageant Director and complained vociferously, turning it into a major problem by day 2 of the Pageant.

The three women disqualified by day 3 were not the only ones without residency proof; 10 telegrams had been hurriedly sent out to hometown mayors. While Miss Idaho and Miss Illinois were well aware of their impending fate; Ellie was not. How hard it must have been when seven received their confirming telegrams back and Ellie waited each day for hers to no avail. Up until the last moment she must have expected the telegram would arrive, to rescue her from becoming a pariah. How could the Manning mayor take so long? She had lived there six years, she had been valedictorian of the High School in 1931, newspaper articles had been written about her, and Manning was so tiny -- about 500 families and less than 2000 people -- and the Mayor lived just three blocks away and knew her aunt and uncle, the town dentist. It is thought that the Manning mayor most likely was not familiar with the name Dankenbring as Eleanor was the only Dankenbring in town, and he did not take the time to investigate, perhaps because he found a beauty pageant frivolous or unconscionable during the Great Depression. How she must have wished she had one of the Iowa or Indiana (June or July) newspaper articles that stated she was a Manning Iowa girl.

Ellie was embarassed and angry that she was disqualified -- upset because she felt wrongly accused as she had been a resident of Iowa her entire life, upset that she did not have a shot at the money she so desperately needed, and upset that the newspaper reporters only wanted to talk about her disqualification, to be published on the front-page of newspapers nationwide.

Bathing suit shot for judges
Evening gown shot for judges
Evening gown shot for judges
"They attributed the mistake to a promoter who assured them that they could represent a state other than the one in which they resided. One of the girls was taken from a mid-western college where she had been selected 'Queen of the Campus' to carry the banner of another state." -- New Castle, PA newspaper, Sep 7.

"If I am disqualified, it is up to the committee to announce it," said Miss Eleanor Dankenbring -- Atlantic City Press newspaper, Sep 9.

Judge Gladys Glad's husband, Mark Hellinger, mentioned how Misses Illinois and Idaho had residency issues, but did not mention Miss Iowa -- Lowell, MA newspaper, Sep 11.

"Miss Iowa, Eltanor [sic] Dankenbring, was going to Valparaiso, Indiana, where she is a student at the university there specializing in journalism. 'I've seen enough to write about the rest of my life,' Eleanor declared" -- Tyrone, PA newspaper, Sep 12.

"..."Miss Idaho" and "Miss Iowa" admit they were selected in a contest in which they submitted their photographs and not their persons. But what, say they, difference does that make. There's no rule against that, you know." -- Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, Sep 8.

"...four girls of the 31 entrants in the pageant ... all declared that James Carrier, holding the title of promotion director of the Atlantic City Beauty Pageant Association and ousted two weeks ago appointed them as representatives of the states the ribbons of which they wore in the pageant." -- Daily Mirror newspaper, Sep 9.

In later years, Ellie told her daughters that at least one judge hinted he could make the residency problem disappear for "certain favors." She definitely did feel that the pageant was not run as honestly or at least as organized as it should have been, with definition of all the qualifications-of-contest and pre-verification that each contestant was qualified.

July 1933 Manning, Iowa newspaper
Although Ellie did not spend the majority of her time in Iowa in 1933, as she was attending college in Indiana, she considered herself to be a resident of Iowa; not only was it the state she was born in, but it was also the only state she had ever lived in. In later years, according to Miss America Organization rules, women would be able to choose their state of competition -- either the state of residency of their family or the state of their university. Under these defined rules, Ellie would have qualified to be chosen as Miss Iowa. It is likely that if she had carried with her a copy of the Manning newspaper article (at right) which calls her a "local girl" this would have been proof enough and the problem avoided. Note that the June and July Valparaiso newspapers also specified she was a resident of Manning. The Miss Iowa Scholarship Pageant lists Ellie as the 1933 titleholder.

A second but related issued plagued the MidWest contestants -- questions about the selection process. On the East Coast most state contests were large, often preceeded by a series of local contests, to select the state queen -- Miss New York City competed against 10,000 hopefuls. The Miss America MidWest Pageant Coordinator James Carrier appears to have been lazy and desperate, instead just appointing someone for the position of state Queen. In his defense, choosing from a photo array was a customary alternative to in-person contests, and was the method used in the prestigious Chicago World's Fair contest in May. Therefore the MidWest contestants so chosen would have no idea that this process could or would in any way be considered irregular. It appears that this issue was also spearheaded by RKO, the sponsor of both Miss New Yorks, although eight other contestants (DE, VA, MI, WV, VT, MA, CT and ME) also joined in to request a confirmation of credentials of all contestants -- but this was early in the Pageant and may have had more to do with eligiblity (marital status and residency) than selection. In any case it was clearly Miss New York City who was most unhappy; her last-minute withdrawal from the Pageant was blamed on just this "irregularity." Her manager, Harry Arder, publicity man for RKO, sent a letter to Armand T. Nichols, Pageant director general, saying that the Pageant was not "on the up and up." The NY Daily Mirror, her co-sponsor, specified that she quit due to the Pageant's "misrepresentation in its conduct" regarding the entries of four Mid-West contestants who were hand-picked rather than selected through contests -- the Misses Idaho, Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky. However when RKO wrote its letter and when Miss New York City did withdraw, just hours prior to the coronation, four MidWest contestants (AR, IA, ID, IL) had already been disqualified; it is not clear why this issue would be brought up at this time. Following the coronation of Miss Connecticut as the Pageant winner, RKO reneged on its promise and gave the screen test prize to Miss New York City.

After the Miss America contest, Eleanor did return to Valparaiso University, but she was not enrolled due to scarcity of funds. She left Valparaiso in early 1934 to pursue job opportunities in Washington, DC -- offers made on the Whistle Stop tour. She met Don Hay on a blind date in 1935 and they were married in 1936. She and her husband founded a construction company. It is of interest that although the Manning mayor may have thought such pageants were inappropriate, Ellie's family apparently did not (her 1936 marriage write-up in the Manning newspaper mentioned her participation).

Despite her disqualification, Ellie had many fond memories of the Pageant, especially the excitement of the many new experiences -- the large East Coast cities, the beach, exotic foods, and the glamour. She told her children that she did it for the fun of it, in addition to the chance at significant prize money. In retrospect the contest had a large impact on her life -- following up on those job offers, she moved to Washington, DC, where she remained for the next 40 years. And she still enjoyed beauty pageants; in the late 1960s, she even encouraged one daughter to enter one. However, the 1933 Miss America Pageant was rarely discussed in the family, even when the televised pageants became a hit in the 1950s and early 1960s; the family rarely watched them together. Ocean memories, however, were a different matter; Atlantic coast beaches remained a favorite family vacation spot throughout her life.

1974 obituary-Washington Post
In 1940 Eleanor was married, living in Washington DC and the mother of an infant daughter. Ellie died in Bethesda, MD on October 19, 1974 at age 61, having battled lung cancer for three years. She was survived by her husband, four married children, and eight grandchildren.

Social Security Death Index: ELEANOR HAY, born: 07 Mar 1913, died: Oct 1974, Last residence: (not specified), Last benefit: (none specified), Social security number: 578-44-3782, State where issued: District of Columbia

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HAY, DONALD 19 Jun 1912 Oct 1978 66 20034 (Maryland) (none specified) District of Columbia 579-14-6251